I like Theo Epstein, have ever since his gorilla-suit-wearing days (would that make him a brass monkey?) back in Boston. But if there’s one gripe I’ve had with him, it’s that his words are often fraught with double entendre when they’re not setting up outright smokescreens. And I get it; since he’s unable to hold his glove over his mouth when speaking, the words themselves become vehicles for obfuscation.
But Epstein minced no words on Tuesday afternoon when he addressed the media from the Cubs offices across the street from Wrigley. In fact, this presser, held to assess the recently-concluded season and to look forward to the next, may have been the most transparently effusive of his Cubs tenure.
Wasting little time with hollow pleasantries and masturbatory platitudes, the Cubs president came right out with verbal guns blazing:
“Overall, for the organization, I think 2015 will be a little bit different than the previous three seasons in that we now think we have the talent to compete. And anytime you have enough talent to compete you want to set your sights high.
“We proved we can be very competitive within this division and when you have a chance to compete you should set your sights high and that means our goal is the NL Central title next year.”
Boom! I was somewhat critical of owner Tom Ricketts when he spoke prior to the season about having a team capable of making the playoffs. But those proclamations were full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Epstein’s, on the other hand, bore real weight, particularly as he continued on.
“We’re going to be competing while we develop young talent. It isn’t easy but it’s exciting, very exciting.
“We’re in a position, perhaps as soon as this offseason, and certainly over the next 15 months, we’re going to be adding some talent from outside the organization that will further round out our club.”
So does that mean the Cubs are finally going to be buyers this winter, perhaps for a big-time arm like Jon Lester, Max Sherzer, or James Shields?
“We’re going to be very involved. We will add talent from outside the organization. I hope we add impact talent, but it has to make sense. It’s starting to be the right time to add impact talent.
“We try to look at these things in stages. Between this offseason, next year’s trade deadline and next offseason, we will add impact talent from outside the organization.”
And while it certainly can’t be filed under the category of Theo-speak, he did drop some subtle caveats in amongst all the hot takes:
“We can’t completely sell out for 2015. We can’t forget about the health of the organization and all the strides that we’ve made and the process that we have for building the right kind of organization.”
Fair enough. The Cubs have been very measured under the guidance of Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, steadily acquiring young bats and clearance-rack veterans to round out the active roster over the past few years. But now some of those bats have matriculated to the Bigs, and more are on the way.
To that end, the coaching staff that presided over the bounce-backs of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and the debuts of Arismendy Alcatara, Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, and Jorge Soler will be called upon to lead the team through what is expected to be a significant growth spurt.
“Their job will be to continue to develop young players but also put the team in a position to win on a nightly basis,” Epstein said.
Asked whether former Red Sox great, of late a player/coach for the AAA Iowa Cubs, Manny Ramirez might perhaps be a part of the staff, Epstein’s response seemed to be delivered with an almost Cutler-esque attitude (Whooooo caaaaares?):
”I want to see whether he wants to continue playing or not before I answer that question.”
But in closing, Epstein really brought everything home, echoing what many fans have been saying with ever-greater confidence over the past few months:
“The 2015 Cubs are in a much better position to compete and to win, certainly than the 2012 Cubs. I couldn’t be more excited about what we have going for ourselves, acknowledging that we haven’t done the job at the big league level so far.”
Whew, I’m getting a little tingly here. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish typing this. I mean, it’s one thing to read one of your favorite bloggers telling people to keep their heads up, help is on the way. But when it comes from the brass, and with this level of specificity, that’s a whole ‘nother story.
And Epstein’s words stand out in even greater clarity when held to the light of his comments after the moribund 2013 season. Then, in talking about the firing of Dale Sveum, Epstein said, “we need that spark of a winning culture.” He admitted that “(Losing) wears on you, but you knew going in it was going to be a process. We just weren’t able to pull it off and get to another level.”
The same man who appeared, if not broken, then bowed by the burden of bringing winning baseball to the corner of Clark and Addison. But today, as the MLB playoffs begin without his team, the Cubs head honcho looked and sounded like a new man. He looked again like the boy wonder from Boston who came to Chicago for the challenge and he sounded like he was enjoying it again.
And what’s not to enjoy? At an average of only 26.6 years of age, the Cubs fielded the youngest team in the majors (the White Sox and Astros were both .3 years older) and actually went 3 games over .500 in the final 59 games of the season. Add in the long-awaited arrival of Kris Bryant, an arm or two, and perhaps a veteran bat and you start to believe that maybe the Cubs could make some noise in the other 103 games as well.
Hey, Theo, could you share that goal for 2015 again?
“Our goal is the NL Central title next year.”